for the love of Maps: a post offered in gratefulness to my father

for the love of Maps: a post offered in gratefulness to my father

I love to travel.

Going for a walk. Riding my bike to the grocery store. Running a marathon. Driving into the City for dinner or a play or even a meeting. Spending 2.5h on a Wednesday afternoon driving children to and from sporting events. A 2-day drive to a lake house to see family. A cross-country trek. A college road trip. Flying across the country to visit a sister or sister-in-law or a dear friend. Flying across an ocean to visit another country.

I love to travel.

Not unrelatedly, I love maps. My friend, Alan Jacobs (, is a bit of a mapping & charting connoisseur (a map geek, one might say). He occasionally links me to amazing charts — those means by which we humans attempt to organize the complex ideas in our heads and present them for the world to see, and hopefully, understand.

I suppose that I am intrigued by charting because I am drawn to identifying how to most effectively communicate. Isn’t this one of the most fundamental desires of human existence? To be understood. Charting is one way that people with ideas in their heads get them out there for others to understand.

Friends in recent years have told me that my mind thinks in flow charts. And it’s true. As soon as a project is laid before me, whether it’s a plan to make dinner or a plan to introduce a new ministry at church, my mind goes to step 1, step 2, decision point (if this, then this … if this other, then this other), step 3 (depending upon the decision made) … . Clearly, words are not the best way to communicate this. I think in flow charts. I draw flow charts. They show me the journey ahead, the pathways I will likely travel to arrive at my destination.

Today, Alan pointed me to this link. I was drawn in to this wonderful presentation of hand-made maps and their particularities. Have you ever noticed that when people draw maps by hand, they intentionally leave things out? They are drawing with a particular goal in mind, so they leave out the unnecessary information. Perhaps that seems obvious or mundane to you. To me, that is fascinating. We instinctively know that to make directions clear, we must leave out some information. By leaving out some, we emphasize the necessary. It reminds me of how white space can set apart the print or graphics on a page … or the art on a wall. Only in the absence of information is the presence of other information relevant or helpful.

I was especially struck by the first map presented: a map of a young woman’s computer connections, drawn by her grand-mother to assist her in re-connecting after a move. There are so many wonderful things about that. That a grand-mother aged person knows enough about computers and their set-up to instruct her grand-daughter about them. That a woman is teaching another woman about how to set up computers (more often than not, it’s a man’s job). That a grand-mother is passing on her wisdom to the next generation — practical, helpful guidance for a young woman making her way in the world. That the grand-mother thought to map this out. Take a look at it. If you’ve ever connected or re-connected a computer and its peripherals, you will know. This map is a beautiful thing. And a useful thing. It’s nice when maps (and other things) are both: beautiful and useful. I want someone to map my computer connections and give me that map as a gift. I would keep it forever and use it often. Perhaps I will give that gift to my children, or my grand-children some day. Or perhaps they will do it for me.

I dedicate this post to my father who taught me to love maps and to know how to read them. On many cross-country treks as a child, I was his navigator (or at least that’s what he led me to believe). He taught me about legends and the symbols for tollways and freeways and back roads and state parks and picnic areas. As he drove and I pored over the map my arms were barely wide enough to contain, my father revealed to me a treasure, the ability to bring to life that which sits on a flat page and turn it into a wonderful adventure.

Thanks, Dad!

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